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DePodesta Finds No Answers in a Tight Market

Times Staff Writer

Paul DePodesta removed his telephone earpiece and emerged from his office moments after the non-waiver trade deadline passed Sunday. The Dodger general manager heaved a sigh and walked to the media dining room where he knew he would be peppered with questions.

No news was decidedly not good news. Yet it was all he had to offer.

The Dodgers desperately need a power hitter and a reliable relief pitcher but acquired neither despite what DePodesta characterized as relentless effort.

“We had serious talks with more than a dozen teams in the last few days,” he said. “We made a last-ditch effort [Sunday] with our top three to four targets.”

He shook his head and said, “Nobody moved.”

He wouldn’t comment on specific trade proposals, but baseball sources said outfielder-first baseman Adam Dunn of the Cincinnati Reds and first baseman Mike Sweeney of the Kansas City Royals were among players pursued by the Dodgers.

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However, the Reds weren’t eager to part with Dunn and would have done so only in exchange for top prospects and a proven pitcher.

The Royals wanted a top prospect and a proven hitter and also refused to pay any of the $25 million Sweeney is owed the next two seasons.

DePodesta said Dodger owner Frank McCourt placed no financial constraints on him.

“Actually, it was quite the opposite,” he said. “There were guys with large contracts Frank urged us to look into acquiring.”

By Sunday, DePodesta said, “We were adding dollars to try to close deals.”

Trading one of the highly touted Dodger prospects was considered as well.

“For the right deal we would have traded anybody,” DePodesta said.

But he wasn’t going to mortgage the future by dealing several prospects to upgrade a team that is 11 games under .500 -- even though it trails first-place San Diego and Arizona by only four games in the weak National League West.

Although he didn’t strengthen the team, he didn’t weaken it, either. Some Dodger players were worried that a starting pitcher such as Jeff Weaver, Derek Lowe or Odalis Perez could have been traded. That might have been the equivalent of raising a surrender flag.

“We feel they are the strength of the club and we weren’t going to trade one unless it made our team better,” DePodesta said.

Dodger Manager Jim Tracy was encouraged that none of the other teams in the NL West made significant upgrades.

San Diego made several moves, but in Tracy’s view none should make much of an impact. The Padres added catchers Miguel Olivo (.151) and David Ross (.224), inconsistent starting pitcher Chan Ho Park and solid third baseman Joe Randa, while dumping slugging first baseman Phil Nevin and his huge contract, sending third baseman Sean Burroughs to the minors and trading utility infielder Geoff Blum for a minor league pitcher.

Arizona traded underperforming outfielder Jose Cruz Jr. for two prospects and the fourth-place San Francisco Giants acquired outfielder Randy Winn for backup catcher Yorvit Torrealba and pitcher Jesse Foppert.

“Are those earthshaking moves?” Tracy said, shaking his head.

Certainly none came close to the trade DePodesta made at the deadline last season when he sent popular catcher Paul Lo Duca, reliever Guillermo Mota and outfielder Juan Encarnacion to Florida for pitcher Brad Penny, first baseman Hee-Seop Choi and a minor leaguer. The wisdom of that deal is still debated.

Instead of potentially overreaching this year, DePodesta retooled the roster with internal moves. Jose Valentin was activated from the disabled list Sunday and will play nearly every day in left field or at third base. Rookie catcher Dioner Navarro and relief pitcher Jonathan Broxton have been called up from the minors and thrust into prominent roles.

Although Valentin’s production has steadily declined in recent years and he was batting only .194 before being injured May 3, DePodesta characterized his return as “getting back a significant piece.”

The Dodgers still could upgrade the roster. Nearly every player in baseball will be placed on waivers during August, and players who are unclaimed can be traded. (A player who is claimed can be pulled back from the waiver wire or traded to the team that claimed him.)

“We will check the waiver wire on a daily basis,” DePodesta said. “There will be a lot of players who get through. The majority of players go unclaimed.”

Also unclaimed is a significant portion of Dodger payroll. DePodesta earlier spoke of setting aside “dry powder” to spend at the trading deadline. Eventually, he said, the money will go toward improving the roster.

“Hopefully we do get a chance to spend it,” he said. “If not, it will continue to be part of our player payroll budget.”


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